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New Borough Leader Talks Financial Transparency, Taxpayer Inclusion

Published: May 17, 2019 at 06:30 am

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May 14 was somewhat bittersweet for Glover Avenue resident Jay Maher.

After decades of service to the Borough of Newtown, within the space of a couple of hours that evening, he saw the borough budget proposal narrowly defeated 30-26 and then took the oath of office as the community’s newly elected top official — Borough Warden.

Early the following morning, Mr Maher came to The Newtown Bee office to introduce himself and to talk about proactive plans to see the borough’s roughly quarter million dollar operating budget prevail on its second attempt.

The Borough of Newtown is an independent 2.3-square-mile government tax district encompassing around 800 residential and commercial properties on and around Main Street and Mt Pleasant Road between Diamond Drive to the west and Borough Lane to the South. While it overlaps and shares many services with the Town of Newtown, the borough by charter has its own government and elected slate of officials, some of whom receive a modest stipend for their work or service.

Contacted following the May 14 budget defeat, Burgess Christopher Gardner told The Newtown Bee the proposed mill rate of 0.83 — a reduction from the current rate of 0.95 mills — needed to be further reduced to ease the tax burden on its property owners. A mill represents one dollar in taxation for every $1,000 in taxable property.

Wasting no time, Mr Gardner said the board of burgesses met after the budget meeting and reduced the proposed budget by another $23,150 to $228,380. He said the next budget meeting is set for June 4, again in the lower meeting room at Edmond Town Hall.

While considered a municipality like its dwindling number of counterparts across Connecticut, the Borough of Newtown cannot issue bonds if funds need to be raised for routine capital projects or for emergency purposes, according to Mr Maher. Accordingly, he said the borough must maintain a robust fund balance that its financial adviser recommends should equal about two full years equivalent of its annual operating budget.

In the past several years, that fund balance has been fortified by unanticipated windfalls of building and permit fees as the Village at Lexington Gardens, and more recently, the Church Hill Village senior community have been developed.

With that recent infusion of capital, however, a number of borough residents have become increasingly concerned about the extent of their influence in how it might be used to underwrite improvement projects, legal costs, and other expenses.

This is one issue newly-elected Warden Maher said he wants to begin working on right away. He told The Bee that off the block, he will begin working on making the budget and financial machinations of the borough and its fund balance more transparent to its taxpayers.

Mr Maher said he hopes to help inspire an even more involved sense of community among borough residents by promoting resident inclusion when considering projects that have to be underwritten by taxes and/or distribution from the fund balance.

When asked why he decided to step forward as candidate for warden after serving on the Board of Burgesses with great success for many years, Mr Maher simply said, “My time had come to step up to this position.

“You know, we meet every second Tuesday of the month, and we get very little public participation,” he said. “I think it’s my goal to restate the relevancy of the borough and provide more transparency regarding our reserves and our budget process.”

Read the full feature in this week's print edition of The Newtown Bee - on local newsstands or subscribe by calling 203-426-3141 or by clicking HERE.

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